Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout (Idyllwild, CA)
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||8 miles (12.9 km)|
|Hike Time||4-5 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||2,820 feet (860m)|
|Highest Elevation||7,772 feet (2369m)|
|Fees & Permits||None|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||San Jacinto Ranger District|
Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.
Getting to the Trailhead
First off, there are about 50 million “Black Mountain Trails” out there, so make sure you are using the one designated as 2E35 in San Bernardino National Forest before the GPS routes you to South Dakota. Use this trailhead address:
Black Mountain Trail 2E35, 4S57, 2E35, Banning, CA 92220
There are no bathrooms or water at the trailhead.
Gear For the Hike
The trail is a legit mountain climb, so you should use proper hiking gear on this hike. Trekking poles help you going up and down the steep slopes. Like most of the high mountains of Southern California, in the summer it can get very hot, and in the winter the trail can be covered with snow. Check the conditions before you go.
Garmin inReach Mini
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost.
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My Review & Guide
How is this Different than a GPS?
Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2022.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.
Black Mountain Trail Maps
Overall the trail is easy to follow, except for the last small stretch before the summit. The trail can get mildly overgrown in places during the spring.
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
- A fire tower has been on Black Mountain (7,772 feet) since 1926, but the one you see now was built in 1962. It’s staffed by volunteers and you can usually go up and have a look around, but please be polite and respectful.
- There are 50 “Black Mountains” in the geographic registry for California. The official name of this peak is “Black Mountain #1” since it’s the tallest of the 8 “Black Mountains” in southern California.
- There are some good bouldering spots along the Black Mountain Trail. Look for hikers with big mats on their back. They are going bouldering.
- The trailhead is close to the fire station, which is home to the Vista Grande Hotshots, and you can sometimes see them training on this trail. They hike up and down carrying their fire gear. Those guys are tough.
- Okay, let’s talk about the giant sequoias. In 1974 in nearby Hall Canyon, there was a fire, and afterwards the Forest Service planted about 150 giant sequoias there. Today they are growing, scattered around the Black Mountain Trail. Don’t expect to see huge trees like Grizzly Giant, but if you know what to look for, you can spot some. If you want a full rundown of all the tree positions and their (re)discovery, read this study by Mena and Rudold Schmid.
Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
On some maps you’ll see the Cinco Poses Trail coming in from the right. Don’t look for it. Whatever was there is long overgrown.
You can also just skip the campground and head back the way you came up.
This guide last updated on July 6, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
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